The reigning world champions, the United States Women’s National Team have crashed out of the Women’s World Cup eliminated in a penalty shoot-out by old rivals Sweden in Melbourne.
After a miss by Sweden’s Nathalie Björn, United States substitute Megan Rapinoe blazed her kick over the bar. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher then saved from Rebecka Blomqvist to give Sophia Smith the chance to send the United States through, only to miss as well. Hanna Bennison scored for Sweden to take the shoot-out into sudden death.
Veteran Kelley O’Hara then struck the post with the United States seventh penalty. Lina Hurtig had the chance to take Sweden through, Naeher pushed her kick up, but could not prevent it crossing the line. To add to the drama, the Swedish celebrations were delayed as the officials consulted the Video Assistant Referee, the ball crossing the line by millimeters.
The result means the four-time world champions have gone out before the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup for the first time in the nine editions of the tournament. Previously, they uniquely had played a maximum amount of games at every single Women’s World Cup, but go out in 2023 having won only one of their four matches in Australia and New Zealand.
Since losing to Sweden in a group stage match in 2011, the United States had not been defeated within regulation time in 20 games at the FIFA Women’s World Cup since, an all-time record at the men’s or women’s tournament, a run which has seen them reach three successive World Cup finals, emerging victorious in the last two.
In the following match in 2011, the United States recovered from trailing 2-1 in extra time to Brazil, equalizing with an iconic header by Abby Wambach in injury-time. Remarkably that game was the last occasion in which the United States had even trailed in a World Cup knockout match, a sequence of ten matches. Their only previous knockout defeat in that time came against Japan in the 2011 final also on a penalty shoot-out.
After widespread criticism of their performance earlier in the week against Portugal in which they were a width of the post from going out of the tournament, the United States produced a much-improved display in Melbourne today.
Inspired by the direct running of Trinity Rodman, the World champions took the game to their European opponents in a tight, tense encounter. In the first half, United States captain, Lindsey Horan crashed a header against the crossbar from a right-wing corner in the 34th minute. Seven minutes into the second period, Horan was denied by a flying save from Swedish goalkeeper Zećira Mušović.
Sweden, who had won all of their group stage matches, scoring nine goals, struggled to create any opportunities from open play. Having already qualified for the knockout stages ahead of their final group game, they rested some of their key players against Argentina, a luxury not available to the United States who required a result from their third game.
Sweden therefore counted on having the fresher legs the longer the match went on by utilising their attacking options from the bench. It took until the 84th minute for the Scandinavians to produce their first shot on target when substitute Sofia Jakobsson forced a save from United States goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. In the 89th minute, Mušović once more came to her side’s rescue saving an Alex Morgan header from point-blank range.
Extra-time saw Mušović make further saves from Morgan, Lynn Williams and Sophia Smith as the United States pushed for an overtime winner. Their players would have had painful memories of a similar elimination as defending Olympic champions at the hands of Sweden during the 2016 Games on a penalty shoot-out following a 1-1 draw in Brasilia.
The attendance of 27,706 in Melbourne in this, the 52nd match of the tournament took the total attendance for the championship to 1,367,037. This surpassed the record figure of 1,353,506 set in Canada eight years ago in a 52-game Women’s World Cup. Then many of the group matches were played as double-headers which inflated figures at some of the less popular games.
This has not been the case in Australia and New Zealand and with 12 matches still to be played before the ninth Women’s world champions will be crowned in Sydney in two weeks, it is likely that the current average crowd figure of 26,289 will rise substantially before the end of what is undoubtedly the biggest women’s sporting event in history.